Episode Overview

In Part 2 of Searchmetrics’ International SEO podcast series with Zeph Snapp, CEO of Altura Interactive, Zeph delves into specific strategies for expansion into Latin America — one of the most rapidly growing markets in the world with more people coming online faster than any other region except for Africa. Learn about the cultural and language differences between the individual countries that make up Latin America and how to maximize its SEO potential.

  • How do you turn issues with lack of consumer and technical sophistication into opportunities?
  • Why is Latin America leap frogging over desktop computers, laptops, and tablets, and going straight to cell phones, and how should SEOs respond?
  • What is the language strategy for reaching the Spanish-speaking market in the US?
  • In what situations should you decide to not localize at the specific country level?
  • What are some of the key strategies for targeting the regions of Mexico, Central America, South America, and Brazil?
  • How can you ensure your audience feels like their content is authentic and written for them, and what are the cost-benefit considerations?


Episode Transcript

Ben:                             Welcome back to International Month, on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro. And this month, we’re talking about expanding your horizons and your search strategies to reach new territories.

Ben:                             Joining us again today is Zeph Snapp, who is the co-founder and CEO of Altura Interactive, which provides Spanish digital marketing services to international companies looking to expand their reach in Latin America, and to the U.S.

Ben:                             And today, Zeph and I are going to talk about how to expand specifically to Latin America. But, before we hear from Zeph, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data driven decisions.

Ben:                             And we’d like to invite you, our loyal podcast listeners, to our upcoming webinar, where we’ll discuss how SEO and SEM are joining forces to win the SERP.

Ben:                             On June 19th, Tyson Stockton, Searchmetrics Director of Services, and Leslie To, 3Q Digital’s VP of SEO will dive into the ways you can combine your organic and paid search to be more effective together.

Ben:                             To register for or SEO and SEM joining forces webinar, go to Searchmetrics.com/webinar.

Ben:                             Okay, on with the show. Here’s the rest of my conversation with Zeph Snapp, the co-founder and CEO of Altura Interactive. Zeph, welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.

Zeph:                            Thanks again for having me. I appreciate it, Ben.

Ben:                             Great to have you back. I’m excited to continue our conversation. Yesterday, we talked a lot about the translation, localization, and the transcreation process. And those are the three terms that we defined as ways that you can take a piece of content from one market, and make it appropriate universally for a second language. Or, trying to make sure that it’s appropriate for a specific user base, in a specific geography.

Ben:                             I want to continue our conversation, but focus in on your real area of expertise, which is the Latin American market. So, talk to me about what the SEOs listening need to know about Latin American as a whole, and some of the cultural and content differences, between the individual countries that make up Latin America.

Zeph:                            Okay. So, let’s start with what they need to know about Latin America. Latin America is … should be your third priority after England and Australia. Because those are the easiest ones for you to go after, depending on your products of course.

Zeph:                            Latin America is growing at a huge, huge rate. People are coming online faster there than any region except for Africa. And this is partially because we have the furthest to come, right. There is a lot of economies that are considered developing, who are just sort of starting to come online.

Zeph:                            E-commerce is something that until recently, people didn’t trust. People didn’t want to put their credit cards online, much like it was in the States 15 years ago.

Zeph:                            So, you are going to run into trust issues. You are going to run into sophistication issues. For example, we’re talking to someone right now about a project regarding cord cutting. So, in Spanish, there isn’t actually a term for cord cutting yet, because not enough people are doing it.

Zeph:                            So, a lot of times, you might look at this and feel a little bit discouraged, but it’s actually an opportunity. It means you get to set the terms of the conversation, by going into this market before your competitors do.

Ben:                             So, my takeaway here is that the market as whole is a little less technically sophisticated, but that also means that there’s probably less competition as well.

Zeph:                            Absolutely. And then, the other part is, is that Latin America is skipping a step, right. Whereas the American market went from desktop computers to laptops, to tablets, to phones. And we see mobile traffic increasing over time.

Zeph:                            In Latin America, basically, the phones are the entry into the market. People are arriving at cell phones as their primary way of getting online. And usually, that’s like the primary device for people when they get started. So, definitely make sure that you are set.

Ben:                             So, my guess is that one of the key takeaways, when you’re localizing content for Latin America is making sure that the underlying site is mobile-y responsive. Talk to me about some of the other keys to making sure that you’re taking your content, assuming, let’s say you are going from English to Spanish in Latin America, what are the other key things that you need to consider?

Zeph:                            Well, so we discussed the sophistication, or lack thereof, of users. You’re going to need to do more education, than you would in the United States. There’s just a lot of terminology that people don’t understand.

Zeph:                            Another important difference is the way that you’re going to use language. There’s … the Spanish language is, by definition, longer. You tend to talk more to send the same message.

Zeph:                            For example, if you’re doing outreach for PR to reporters, in the U.S. I know people who specialize in this, whose outreach emails might be two or three lines, and that’s it. Now, that’s not really going to fly in Latin America. You need to present yourself politely. You need to state who you are, what you appreciate about them, why you’re interested in them, what it is you have to offer, and then finally you might, in the second or third engagement, actually present them with the concept that you’re trying to promote.

Zeph:                            You’re going to need to understand that your sales cycles are by nature, going to be longer. And, that people also are … don’t have the same understanding of what an ad, versus what an organic listing is.

Zeph:                            So, basically you just need to take everything you have, and try and take it about three steps further than you would in English.

Ben:                             So, talk to me about some of the differences with the countries that make up Latin America. And, as you are thinking about Latin America, is there ways that you can kind of divide the larger Latin America into chunks? Do you think about it in Central America, and South America? There’s some Portuguese speaking countries. There are Spanish speaking countries. Some that speak French as an alternative language. How are you think about the regional breakdown, or is each country its own individual beast?

Zeph:                            So, that’s actually a fairly difficult thing to do, because either you say there is quite a bit of diversity in language and in the regions. So, the first thing is, Mexico is basically like its own bag, right. You can stick Guatemala on there as well. But, Guatemalans would resent that, and they see themselves as very, very different.

Zeph:                            But Mexico is the easiest market to reach that way. So also, when you’re looking at the U.S. market for example, 85% of users online are of Mexican descent. So, if you’re going after the U.S. Hispanics, then using Mexican Spanish is going to be your best fit.

Zeph:                            But the truth is, is that it really depends on your product, your service, than it does on the market itself, right. So for example, one of our clients for a long time was Shopify. And they have a virtual product, right. It’s location agnostic. What they’re looking for … and, they charge in dollars, no matter where you are.

Zeph:                            So, the content for them didn’t need to be localized on a specific country level. Whereas, someone who’s selling a physical product, a physical store, is going to need to be more specific.

Zeph:                            Now, if you’re talking about breaking it up by region, the easiest way is basically, you can look at the Caribbean, which would be its own region, and its own languages, and in fact, even between those markets there’s going to be differences.

Zeph:                            There is going to be Mexico and Central America, and then South America. And then of course, Brazil, which is split out on its own, which is a monster. It’s a huge economy, and it’s growing very, very quickly.

Zeph:                            So, quite frankly, the easiest way to make distinctions is to get into how people speak. So, the forms of address, whether it’s tu, usted, vos, et cetera, is what’s going to define how you work on this.

Zeph:                            Now, the other part that’s interesting is that because a Columbian is still going to be able to understand what a Mexican person is saying. The best comparison I can make is, where are you from, Ben?

Ben:                             I’m from the suburbs of San Francisco, in California in the United States.

Zeph:                            Okay. Have you traveled to Texas before?

Ben:                             I lived in Texas for a couple of years.

Zeph:                            Okay, but did you have to learn a new language when you got there?

Ben:                             I actually spoke fluent Texan before I got there.

Zeph:                            Right. So, the point is, is that you can understand mostly what a Texan is saying, without having been there before. It’s the same situation. So, when I watch a show like Narcos, the Spanish is Columbian. I can still understand all of it, it just sounds like they’re talking funny.

Ben:                             Right. There’s a difference between somebody being able to consume the content, and then somebody feeling like it was written for them.

Zeph:                            Okay. So, there’s a difference between the language being consumable, and them feeling like the content is written for them, right.

Ben:                             Absolutely.

Zeph:                            And in slow topics, it’s appropriate to have something more general. You can write content for the entire Spanish speaking world, if you have a certain type of product, and especially if there isn’t a lot of information around that. But, if you want something that’s written specifically for them, for them to feel so identified with this that they feel compelled to buy your product or your service in that moment, you’re best off creating something that’s contextually correct for the country where they are.

Ben:                             So, talk to me about the implications of cost. Because, the way that I’m … I’m actually sitting here looking at a map of Latin America, right. Everything south of the United States and the new world.

Ben:                             You mentioned that you sort of count Mexico as its own beast, and Brazil as its own. And then you have Central America and South America, and you’re kind of grouping those into similar countries, because of … the language is going to be relatively similar with that breakdown.

Ben:                             If I am thinking about expanding a U.S. brand into Central and South America, I can do a Mexican translation, a Brazilian translation, a Central American translation, and a South American translation. That’s four.

Ben:                             Now, I can also do one for each individual country, and now all the sudden, I’m looking at, what is it … 25 or something different dialects. That has a cost impact. So, what do you recommend for somebody that’s trying to blanketly cover Latin America? Should they take on and incur the extra costs to have local relevance in Nicaragua, versus Costa Rica, versus Panama? Or, do they just write it once, and have a Central American version?

Zeph:                            So, I mean, again the answer is going to be it depends. It’s a cost benefit analysis, right. You need to go and see the size of the market, relative to what you’re going to get out of it. One thing that I see a lot of companies do, if they’re trying to converse costs and get things done on budget, is that they’ll do a translation to Spanish, whether that’s Mexican, Chilean, or Argentinian. And then, they will hire people to localize that translation for other specific markets.

Zeph:                            But now, regionally, it’s going to be difficult to target people from an SEO perspective. You’re kind of going to need to make a choice, whether you’re targeting people based on language, or on country. But, when it comes to the localization itself, that’s the most cost effective way of doing it, from what I can see.

Ben:                             Yeah. So, you can start to batch your content by region, and essentially you’re doing something that is acceptable, right, and can be consumable. And if you’re starting to see results, you have the ability to then go back and edit the translation to be more relevant locally.

Zeph:                            Right. And actually, there is a really good site called asisehabla.com. Which will give you the meaning of specific words for different Latin American countries. So, it’ll break it down and say, well a word in Mexico means car, but in Uruguay it means pig. Which is not necessarily true, I just have that as an example off the top of my head.

Ben:                             Okay.

Zeph:                            But there are specific words like that, that are going to mean very different things in different places. And so, it’s good to have someone take a look at it, and make sure that you’re not doing something that’s horribly mistaken, that’s going to offend anyone. There’s so many translations fails to choose from. I like to use them in presentations. They’re good for a laugh.

Zeph:                            But, one of the things that we do a lot for companies, is we’ll do sanity checks. So, someone will have hired a translation company to go through and do this for all of these different dialects. And then, they’ll hire us to go through and make sure that what was done isn’t going to be offensive to anyone.

Zeph:                            And so, we’ll just go, yep, yep, yep this is good. You should change this, the nomenclature here. And, now you can move ahead.

Ben:                             My favorite example of what you’re talking about, and probably the only translation joke that I have is the Chevy Nova. Which, when it was brought into Latin America, people thought it meant No-va, which means no-go. And, let’s just say that the sales weren’t great.

Zeph:                            So, you know what’s funny is, that’s actually urban legend. Because the Nova was never sold in Latin America.

Ben:                             Damn it. Okay.

Zeph:                            It was-

Ben:                             Scratch that.

Zeph:                            No. No, no, no. I actually like it as an example, because it’s something I find when people import things. But, the best examples of this don’t actually come from big brands. They come on a micro level. It’s like when people have … so I just found one that’s great, that I will send to you, whether or not we use it.

Zeph:                            Is, someone translated a meatball, which translated in Arabic, it means Paul is dead. This is another good one here. A place that sells chicken, right.

Ben:                             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Zeph:                            Was translated as, sale of chicken murder.

Ben:                             Sale of chicken bird?

Zeph:                            No, sale of chicken murder.

Ben:                             Oh God, chicken murder. Kentucky Fried Sale of Chicken Murder.

Zeph:                            Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ben:                             Oh.

Zeph:                            Yeah.

Ben:                             I’m sure there are lots of other translation horror stories, and I appreciate you telling us a couple of them. Before we let you go, any last words for somebody that is thinking about expanding into Latin America, any resources, any guides, any places that they should head?

Ben:                             Obviously, you would be a great resource. Where should people look if they’re thinking about going to Latin America?

Zeph:                            So, I’ve done a bunch of presentations. You can look on SlideShare for me. There’s YouTube videos, and all kinds of content that people have taken from presentations that I’ve given.

Zeph:                            But, the most important thing is to plan. Make sure that you have a style guide. Make sure that you know what your strategy is, as you’re going into Latin America, to make sure that you’re localizing as much as possible, and that you’re going to do things that users are going to appreciate.

Ben:                             What’s the Spanish word for plan?


Ben:                             Have a planner.

Zeph:                            Oh, man. Tiene un plan.

Ben:                             Tiene un plan. And on that note, that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search Podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Zeph Snapp, the co-founder and CEO of Altura Interactive. We’d love to continue this conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacted Zeph, you can find the link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes.

Ben:                             You can contact him on Twitter, where his handle is ZephSnapp. Or, you can visit his company’s website, Alturainteractive.com.

Ben:                             If you have general marking questions, or if you’d like to talk to me about this podcast, you can find my contact information in our show notes, or you can send me a Tweet at Benjshap. And if you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, online visibility, or to gain competitive insights, head over to Searchmetrics.com/diagnostic for your complementary advisory session with our digital strategies team.

Ben:                             And if you liked this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back in your feed next week.

Ben:                             Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast, and you’re feeling generous, we’d love for you to leave us a review in the Apple iTunes Stores, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Okay, that’s it for today, but until next time, remember the answers are always in the data.


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